It’s been two years since the #metoo movement exploded into the cultural consciousness--and therefore, into the workplace. While HR managers have been dealing with sexual harassment for much longer than that, the #metoo movement has radically changed how we talk about and address sexual harassment in the workplace.
So, two years later...is anything different? And what can companies do to make things better?
Sexual harassment has decreased, but...
According to a Blind poll that fielded 2.8 million responses from tech workers from over 200 companies, on average 72% of employees in the tech industry say that they have not seen a positive change in the workplace since the movement picked up speed two years ago. In fact, just the opposite might be happening. According to the Harvard Business Review, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention has decreased, but gender harassment--meaning negative treatment of women based on their gender--has increased from 76% to 92%. This means that while sexual harassment has decreased generally in the workplace, gender discrimination against women has spiked, creating a more covert hostile workplace environment even though the overt threats--coercion and unwanted attention--have decreased. That’s a huge backlash effect that is effectively making conditions even worse for women-identified employees.
Gender discrimination is still discrimination
HBR defines gender harassment as “negative treatment of women that is not necessarily sexual, but may include things like a supervisor or coworker making sexist remarks, telling inappropriate stories, or displaying sexist material.” The report even emphasized that companies need to pay just as much attention to gender harassment because, according to their sources, “women faced with “just” gender harassment show significant decrements in professional and psychological health – including performance declines.” Over time, gender harassment can be just as damaging as coercion, unwanted attention, or assault.
This kind of behavior is exactly that HR professionals should be deeply concerned about, even though throwing more effort into preventing sexual harassment/assault may look better on paper. By HR metrics, gender harassment is still a type of toxic behavior that contributes to a hostile work environment--behavior that ultimately forces at least 1 in 5 to leave, citing toxic workplace culture as the primary reason.
What can companies do about it?
Unconscious bias and sensitivity training are great, but ultimately those methods are reactionary, and you can never guarantee that putting an employee through a five-hour course is going to change deeply-entrenched behavioral patterns. The best long-term strategy is to be proactive and preventative--meaning weeding out the bad hires before they even enter the employee lifecycle. One of the best ways to prevent toxic workplace behavior from cropping up in your company is to conduct pre-hire social media screenings across the board. In this case, various types of gender discrimination stretch across three out of our four filters--intolerance (i.e. sexism), sexually explicit material, and threats of violence. Gender discrimination isn’t behavior that only happens in the workplace. While sexual harassment is hard to catch because it’s almost never reported, it’s much more ubiquitous cousin, gender discrimination, is easy to find. Chances are if it’s happening in real life, it’s most certainly showing up where people are less inhibited--online, and specifically on social media.
That doesn't mean you have to take adverse action the moment you find a red flag--but you can use it as a "teachable moment" to call your candidate in and set firm expectations for what you define as a safe and healthy workplace.
Let’s put it this way: all of your employees deserve safe, healthy workplace culture. If 50% of your workforce is experiencing gender-related stress on the daily, that’s a huge percentage of your company that could be experiencing demotivation and depression, losing productivity, and even contemplating leaving. A safer workplace for women and women-identified employees doesn’t just mean mitigating sexual harassment--it means eradicating “everyday sexism” too.
Over 70% of employers already understand the importance of screening online behavior. Workplace safety is just one of three top reasons companies seek out social media screening. Social Intel provides a brief, informative whitepaper and sample Hiring Report to help businesses understand how they can create healthier, safer workplace culture by taking proactive steps to screen their employees’ and prospective employees’ publicly available online information.
About the author
Lindsey is an HR content writer and lifestyle blogger.